LAWRENCE — Algae blooms in the Kansas River and some state lakes and reservoirs are causing an odd taste and smell in drinking water in cities along the river, but officials say the problem does not pose any health concerns.
City officials in Topeka and Lawrence say they have received dozens of complaints in recent days about drinking water smelling or tasting "musty" or "earthy."
They place most of the blame on algae blooms in Clinton Lake and Tuttle and Milford reservoirs. Both dump into the Kansas River, which provides most of the water for the two cities.
"It is not harmful to anybody," said Jeanette Klamm, projects manager for the city's utilities department. "You can drink the water. It is strictly an aesthetics thing, but it is an issue."
And Topeka water superintendent Don Rankin issued a statement assuring the city's residents that the water was safe to drink.
No one knows how long the problem might last, but Klamm said it's likely to be several days or longer until the algae dies off.
Rankin and Bruce Northrup, Topeka's water treatment plant manager, said there's been a slight elevation in two compounds that generally have a slight "dirt," or earthy odor.
Outflow from the Tuttle and Milford reservoirs have been increased in recent weeks, and Rankin and Northrup think the algae blooms from those reservoirs are dumping into the river upstream from Topeka.
This summer's weather patterns have encouraged algae growth, said Andy Ziegler, the Kansas water quality specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Ziegler said rains early in the summer washed large amounts of nutrients into area lakes. When the weather became dry and hot, it brought warm, clear waters that promote algae growth.
Ziegler agrees that the water is safe to drink because it's gone through treatment processes. But he said evidence exists that people who have contact with blue-green algae at the lake or in other untreated circumstances can become sick.
Ziegler, who is based in Lawrence, said the problem may become more prevalent as area lakes become shallower due to siltation.
"There's a lot about this that we still don't know," Ziegler said. "It is an emerging research issue, and an important one because of potential environmental impacts and human health impacts."